Vaster than empires: Ursula Le Guin introduces her Hainish stories

Hainish box

A big box, big enough to hold a universe of human dreams and dramas, small enough to be held in human hands.

On, the introductions to the new 2-volume boxed set, The Hainish Novels & Stories, from the Library of America, have been posted.  Written by Ms. Le Guin, they give background on how she wrote some of the groundbreaking sf of the 1960s and ’70s, like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.  And how she *didn’t* write them, that is, as a coherent “future history”, leading her to dislike references to a “Hainish Cycle” of stories.

Plus, in the first introduction, she describes her own relationship to the speculative genres, both as fan and writer, and comparing them to her other love, Poetry:

Science fiction was, in this respect, like poetry, a field in which I was then also occasionally getting published: a living literature ignored by most Americans, but read passionately by those who read it.  Both were small worlds, resounding with theories, arguments, friendships, rivalries, flights of praise and volleys of insults, and dominated by figures worshiped by their followers.

Science fiction proved to be the more receptive to her and to her work, though:

Many of the established figures of the genre were open-minded and generous, many of its readers were young and game for anything. So I had spent a lot of time on that planet.

In the second introduction, she discusses her return to the Hainish universe, and the fantasy archipelago Earthsea, after years of not thinking about them:

At the end of that ten-year exploration of my own inner territories, I was able to see my old Earthsea with new eyes, and to return to the worlds of the Hainish descent ready to play very freely with the imaginative opportunities they offered.

One reception offered to her, though, she found not to her liking, coming from her 1977 novel, The Word for World is Forest, about aliens who commune with a vast arboreal landscape that is under assault by Earthlings:

A final note on Word for World: a high-budget, highly successful film resembled the novel in so many ways that people have often assumed I had some part in making it. Since the film completely reverses the book’s moral premise, presenting the central and unsolved problem of the book, mass violence, as a solution, I’m glad I had nothing at all to do with it.

In the long run, I suspect that Ms. Le Guin’s work will survive and thrive in the minds of readers, no matter how her images and imaginative cultures may be adopted and adapted in the speculative efforts of others.


Taking and talking detours aboard the Wayfarer

The good ship Wayfarer takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’!

For a pleasant August evening, the Beamers spent a pleasant couple of hours going over and under the various elements that Becky Chambers used to create her Wayfarer universe, as seen in her debut novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.  While the destination of the crew is, indeed, a small, geologically active (hence “angry”) planet, and its inhabitants, the Toremi, are not particularly welcoming, we found a lot to enjoy in the book, and even more to discuss. Continue reading

Looking for the new Lt. Ripley?

Despite Randall Munroe’s What if? drawing, the PPO gets neither an official badge nor a nifty sword.

NASA this week posted a job opening for a Planetary Protection Officer, a title that requires the holder to “the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration.”  Organic?  Biological contamination?  In space!  Does this position sound tailor-made for Sigourney Weaver?

Actually, it is all about the tiny biota, bacteria and viruses, and mainly with keeping Earth organisms from hitching a ride and contaminating any extraterrestrial landscapes, thus making it harder to discover actual off-Earth life.

Dr. Conley has to protect Mars from Earthlings, so we can figure out if there are any Martians at all.
Photo credit: Paul E. Alers/NASA

Dr. Catherine “Cassie” Conley, the current PPO and 6th to hold the title, is happy for the exposure but not so thrilled with the association to hostile E.T.s and xenomorphs: “We have no evidence that there has been an invasion of intelligent life,” Conley told Fortune in an interview on Friday.  The objective is more about keeping NASA in compliance with the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.  “It is extremely important that as we explore space that we do it in a careful way,” she said. “If you want to find life on other planets, you have to be careful not to find Earth life by accident.”

So, despite the 6-figure salary, the PPO is not likely to be suiting up in a cargo loader and going toe-to-toe with the Queen Mother alien any time soon.

A long way across a big, mildly upset planet

The novel was serialized in 4 parts, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, before book publication

In the summer swelter of mid-July, the Beamers cooled off with some beverages at Panera’s and with an epic quest across a mammoth planet that kept us distracted from the heat, all the way to Lord Valentine’s Castle.  Robert Silverberg’s planetary romance was a bit radical when published in 1980, marking a major departure from the solid and experimental science fiction that he had been writing in the 1960s and ’70s.  But the Beamers liked following the detour that his sf career took. Continue reading

When “The Muppet Show” got “Mad” at Readercon …

I recently attended Readercon 28 in Quincy, Mass, and spent 4 days immersed in a sea of speculations on speculative fiction.  (Seriously, the panel discussion “Problematizing Taxonomizing” was sub-titled “Maybe the Most Readercon Panel Ever”, for good reasons.)

Mixed in with all the heady and erudite discussions were readings, small-group sit-downs with authors (called “kaffeeklatsches”), autograph signings, award presentations (Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery, Shirley Jackson horror) a well-stocked book dealers’ room, an over-stocked hospitality suite, and plenty of space in which to meet and greet friends, old or new.

While much of the fun is spontaneous, some of it is programmed, particularly on Saturday evenings when the Most Readerconnish Miscellany is presented.  This year, the British comedy quiz show, I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, provided the framework for 2 hours of improv scenes, literary quips, and songs.  Ah, the songs, a karaoke collision of geek culture with mainstream heavyweights to produce a sound and a vision all too wonderfully mashed-up to pass up.  Crystal Huff, a con organizer (and co-chair of this year’s WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland!) recorded some of the merriment and posted the videos to Twitter.


Dread chibi gods?


Gaze not long into the abyss of their, uhh, bright, puppy eyes, for the abyss will, uhh, gaze back into yours, affectionately.

As part of their on-going H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos re-read on, Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth added a Japanese anime to the list of Mythos-related works.  Kishin Houkou Demonbane follows the adventures of Kurou, a down-on-his-luck private detective/sorcerer in Arkham, who finds (or is found by) a copy of the dread Necronomicon.  In the form of a young, violet-haired woman with aqua eyes, who seals their mystical bond with a kiss.  Her magic enables Kurou to pilot a mecha (big battlebot) named Demonbane, built to fight against the minions and mecha of the evil Black Lodge.  Including an avatar of the Pnakotic Manuscripts (appearing as a Goth girl in black dress, black ribbons, and sapphire eyes).

Aside from the “chibi” (short/cute) versions of Mythos books, and Arkham looking more like Gotham City than HPL’s Salem-inspired locale, the anime does cram in an amazing amount of Mythos individuals, items, and lore.  So, Mythos fans who can tolerate a bit (or a lot, actually) of mighty machines battling and some (or a lot, actually) “fan service” images (several big, umm, “forewords”, those magical books seem to have) are in for a surprisingly bright and intriguing take on the dark Great Old Ones and their forbidden tomes.

Woo Who!

The next Doctor Who will be a woman, Jodie Whittaker. Ms. Whittaker, a native of Yorkshire, England, is known for appearing in Attack the Block (2011), One Day (2011) and St. Trinian’s (2007).

Galaxy Fest

355 issues of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine are now available for reading online or downloading here.

According to Wikipedia:

galaxymagazine-1950-10“Galaxy Science Fiction was an American digest-size science fiction magazine, published from 1950 to 1980. It was founded by an Italian company, World Editions, which was looking to break into the American market. World Editions hired as editor H.L. Gold, who rapidly made Galaxy the leading science fiction (sf) magazine of its time, focusing on stories about social issues rather than technology.


galaxymagazine-1951-02“At its peak, Galaxy greatly influenced the science fiction field. It was regarded as one of the leading sf magazines almost from the start, and its influence did not wane until Pohl’s departure in 1969. Gold brought a “sophisticated intellectual subtlety” to magazine science fiction according to Pohl, who added that “after Galaxy it was impossible to go on being naive.”[2] SF historian David Kyle agrees, commenting that “of all the editors in and out of the post-war scene, the most influential beyond any doubt was H. L. Gold”. Kyle suggests that the new direction Gold set “inevitably” led to the experimental New Wave, the defining science fiction literary movement of the 1960s.”


Eight fought adventure

Another evocative Jeff Jones cover that, alas, does not occur in the book.

On the cusp of Summer, eight stalwart Beamers grappled with the flashing swords and dark sorceries of Fritz Leiber’s redoubtable pair, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  Though, as in true Beamer fashion, many doubts about the pair were raised, particularly with regard to their paramours. Continue reading

The children of the night, what tuneful tones!

Shouldn’t an alternative version be titled “Alucard”?

In the May 2017 issue of Locus, Stefan Dziemianowicz reviews an alternative (or “lost”) version of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, Dracula.  Published in Iceland(!) in the early 1900s, with the title Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna), it differs from the traditional edition of Dracula published in England in 1897, in ways both small and large.  The post title is the PoD quote better known in English as “Listen to them, the children of the night – what music they make!”  The events in London are compressed into fewer chapters, while a Europe-wide conspiracy of the elites lead by the Count is added.  But, the Icelandic edition boasts an introduction written by Bram Stoker himself for its publication, so it bears some level of authenticity.

For Dracula scholars, then, the question comes what text was the basis for the Icelandic version?  An earlier draft, from which Stoker removed many of the “potboiler” political thriller elements and characters?  Stoker’s wife published the story “Dracula’s Guest” as a chapter edited out of the final draft, but vampire fiction students speculate that it, too, is part of an earlier draft and not the final manuscript.  So, horror fans may take an interest in this (possibly earlier) take on the iconic vampire of modern literature to glean insight into how the Count arose from the fertile ground of Bram Stoker’s imagination to stalk our nights.

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